By DON JACOBS, email@example.com
August 4, 2006
Two teens from Knoxville and one from Clinton died in Alabama Wednesday when a 16-year-old Clinton boy fell asleep while driving to a beach getaway, authorities said.
Kristopher Hope, who was driving the 2000 Chevrolet Tahoe, and his 15-year-old brother, Matthew Hope, survived the 7:55 p.m. (CDT) crash, said Fort Payne, Ala., Police Chief David Walker.
Walker identified the dead as Chase Carroll, 17, of Knoxville; Merry Katherine Prince, 19, of Knoxville; and Michael Rowe, 17, of Clinton. All were declared dead at the scene alongside Interstate 59.
"To me, it looked more like a plane crash than a car crash," Walker said. "It was that bad. You couldn't tell it was a Tahoe."
Officials said Prince was a 2004 graduate of Bearden High School. She was a sophomore at Pellissippi State Technical Community College. Carroll attended Bearden High School last year but was not enrolled for the upcoming school year. Rowe attended Clinton High School.
Officials in Clinton said Matthew Hope was enrolled as a sophomore at Clinton High School. He was slated to pay fees and get his class schedule today during Dragon Day at the school.
There was no record of Kristopher Hope being enrolled at Clinton High School this year.
Walker said the 2000 Tahoe owned by the Hopes' mother, Susan Keathley, was southbound on I-59 near the Georgia state line when the vehicle left the right side of the road. The Tahoe leaned sharply to the passenger side as it ran down a slight embankment, the chief said.
As the Tahoe ran down the embankment, it slammed into a tree. The passenger side suffered heavy damage. The driver's side of the vehicle was spared the most violent trauma.
Because of that, Kristopher Hope sustained minor injuries in the crash. He was walking at the scene and talking to police, Walker said.
Matthew Hope, who was seated behind his brother, suffered more serious injuries, Walker said.
"We were able to talk to the driver, and he said he thought he fell asleep," the chief said.
The driver's brother, however, was unable to speak with investigators.
Walker said authorities determined that the Tahoe brakes weren't applied until after the vehicle left the interstate, which has a speed limit of 70 mph.
"That also supports the driver's story that he fell asleep," the chief said. "The rumble strips probably woke him, but by then, it was too late."
The chief said he was unsure if all the occupants were using seat belts.
"There was evidence of seat-belt use, but it didn't matter in this one," Walker said. The impact ripped one passenger and the seat that passenger was sitting on from the vehicle.
Walker said the Hopes were taken by ambulance to DeKalb Regional Medical Center in Fort Payne and then airlifted to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga. Matthew Hope was listed Thursday in critical condition, while his brother was listed in fair condition.
The group was en route to Orange Beach in Alabama, near the Gulf Shores resort area, the chief said.
Walker said there was a vehicle behind the Tahoe, but the driver was too far back to see exactly what happened. He said there were no reports before the wreck of an erratic driver on the interstate.
Walker said he was unsure if any charges would result from his agency's probe. The chief said he ordered blood tests for the Hopes and autopsies for the dead as part of the investigation.
Walker said there was no indication of alcohol or drugs at the scene of the crash.
Don Jacobs may be reached at 865-342-6345. Staff writer Tom Benning contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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